Review: Hamilton Leithauser

Although he opened his act at the Cafe Carlyle with a Randy Newman song – and spent years fronting indie rock darlings The Walkmen – there’s something about every song Hamilton Leithauser sings that arcs toward Bob Dylan. When he sings quietly, it’s in a Dylansque talk-sing, but when he rocks out, it is clear that he has a much stronger voice than ol’ Bob ever did. His show is full of wonderful songs, but he has not yet figured out how to perform them in an intimate setting.

Leithauser’s lyrics tend toward the literate and witty, but it is difficult to hear them when he is singing to a back row that is many yards further than the Carlyle’s actual back row. To be clear, I am not one of those critics who goes “rock music is too loud”: I grew up on punk and post-punk. But literally read the room. David Johansen, Judy Collins and Joan Osborne – all big room fillers for decades – all have successfully done so. And in every case with strong nods to Dylan (is the Carlyle trying to book Bob? It would be oddly perfect).

Also, Leithauser openly said he was telling the short version of several songs’ backstories. That’s misunderstanding what cabaret is about – this is a place for talking and storytelling. Tell the long version. On the plus side, Leithauser’s lyrics often surprise and conjure evocative images. Mostly the songs break towards hope, but with a rueful awareness of the difficulties life puts in your way. While it is definitely a work in progress, I still recommended this.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

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